SoR warning following advertising complaints over private pregnancy ultrasound scans 

The Advertising Standards Agency upheld complaints against two private clinics offering early pregnancy scans

Published: 27 October 2023 Ultrasound

The Society of Radiographers has issued a warning over advertising of private pregnancy ultrasound scans, following complaints against two private clinics. 

Gill Harrison, professional officer for ultrasound with SoR has issued an update to sonographers, after the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) received complaints against two private clinics offering ultrasound services over their promotion of early pregnancy scans. 

The ASA upheld complaints against the two unnamed clinics, after they offered scans from seven to eight weeks of pregnancy but did not make clear the limitations of scans at this very early stage. 

Be very clear 

Ms Harrison said: “The ASA raised concerns about the ability of an ultrasound scan to assess the health of and provide reassurance about the wellbeing of a fetus particularly in early pregnancy.

“It is important for sonographers advertising any ultrasound services on websites or social media to be very clear about what the scan can offer and in pregnancy, how that varies at different gestational ages. There is also a need for clarity about the type of report that will be provided.

“Expectant parents are not always aware of the difference between examinations types on offer, so it is the responsibility of the sonographer to provide transparent information to inform parent-centred decisions.” 

In May, the ASA issued advice on the advertisement of private ultrasounds scans, warning that clinics offering early pregnancy scans should be “mindful of the language they use in ads, to ensure that parents-to-be are aware of what information the scans can reasonably provide.” 

Reassurance scans 

Typically, in the NHS the first pregnancy ultrasound scans are done from 10-14 weeks to establish the position of the fetus and the due date, and offer screening for trisomy 13,18, and 21, followed by a second scan between 18-21 weeks to check on the physical development of the baby and look for unexpected physical conditions. 

Some private clinics also offer ‘reassurance scans’ and/or ‘wellbeing checks,’ which they suggest involve extended consultations and ultrasound scans, typically from around seven to eight weeks of pregnancy.

But the ASA warned private clinics against “unqualified references” to these scans, and statements around  “the health of your baby” or “normal progress” of the pregnancy.

The watchdog said comments of this nature are likely to be ambiguous and misleading as to the extent of information that can be obtained from the scan. 

Check your content 

A statement from the ASA said: “The ASA investigations found that the scans being offered by the two clinics were being advertised as available in relation to babies from seven or eight weeks up to full term. Whilst it may be the case that the scans can be used to establish the position of the baby and a likely birth date at seven-eight weeks, the ASA rulings indicate that there not much more information that could be gleaned about the health or the physical development of the baby from an ultrasound or other assessment at this very early stage of pregnancy.

“Marketers are therefore advised to avoid suggesting that the scans can establish ‘reassurance’ or determine the ‘wellbeing’ of the baby in the early stages of pregnancy.” 

For anyone concerned about their marketing of ultrasound scans, the ASA offers to check over content to ensure it is compliant with advertising standards through its Copy Advice team.